Major League Baseball 2014 Team Previews: The LA Angels
When the Los Angeles Angels acquired Albert Pujols from the free agent market to be their everyday first baseman for the exorbitant cost of $240 million, expectations rose exponentially for the fans of the team and baseball observers everywhere. Two years later, the team has not only failed to obtain their first championship since 2002, but they have failed to even make a postseason appearance.
Injuries, questionable spending and happenstance have contributed to this team being severe underachievers in the American League West, where the Texas Rangers and the Oakland Athletics have stolen the limelight. With improved health, a tweaked roster and an optimistic outlook, the time for the 'Halos' to obtain their crown may be now.
Pujols and Hamilton
Star first baseman Albert Pujols was signed to his 10-year contract before the 2012 season. After leading the St. Louis Cardinals to World Championships in 2006 and '11, with three MVP awards, six Silver Slugger awards and nine All Star appearances from 2001-11, he has so far been a disappointment to a team that was betting its future on him. His slash line (batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage) last season was only .258/.330/.437. He hit only 17 home runs and drove in 64 runs, while scoring 49.
Pujols underwent offseason surgery on his right knee before the 2013 season, and then suffered through plantar fasciitis in his left foot during the year, which contributed to further struggles. He began preparing for this season as soon as the last one ended, refining his swing and shedding seven pounds in an attempt to get quicker. Pujols needs only eight home runs to reach 500 for his career, quite a feat for a 34-year old. With eight years remaining on his contract and better health and luck over the near future, this star with add allure to what is already a Hall of Fame-type career.
Josh Hamilton disregarded any baseball activities for a full month after the season ended. He added 28 pounds over the Winter in an attempt to provide more offensive power, and is now at 240 pounds. Hamilton, 32, had a slash line of .305/.363/.549 for the Texas Rangers from 2008-12. He appeared on the American League All Star team each of those seasons. He also won the 2010 AL MVP Award while leading the league with a .359 BA, .633 SL% and 1.044 OPS. His slash line was only .250/.307/.432 in his first season with LA, after signing a five-year, $125 million contract. He started the 2013 season at 227 pounds and finished at 212 pounds. The correlation between the weight loss and the drop in offensive numbers led to his goals of weight gain over the offseason.
A More Positive Outlook
The Angels and their fans have several reasons to have a more positive outlook to the 2014 season.
- Slugger Albert Pujols appears to be healthy for the first time in two seasons. If he can return to even partial pre-2012 form, he will be a force in the American League West.
- Josh Hamilton returned to his pre-2013 weight of 240 pounds. The team anticipates a return to MVP, All-Star form for the slugging outfielder.
- Mike Trout will be patrolling center field for the Angels for the third year. Trout is one of the most exciting young players in the game. He can only make the team better if he maintains form.
- The starting five should be a strength with Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson atop the rotation.
Despite the importance of key players Pujols and Hamilton, perhaps no player on the roster is more important to this club than Mike Trout. The 22-year old center fielder is entering his third full season and fourth overall. He has a .314/.404/.544 slash line and has amassed 62 home runs and 196 RBI's. He also has 86 stolen bases and 72 doubles. The 2012 AL Rookie of the Year won the Silver Slugger and made the All Star team the past two seasons. He led the league in runs in '12 and '13 (129 and 109, respectively), stolen bases in '12 with 49, and walks last season with 110. If the young slugger can continue his offensive output, he will be the catalyst and the spark the club needs to contend in the AL West and the postseason.
Ernesto Frieri (closer)
Albert Pujols (1B)
Mike Trout (CF)
Josh Hamilton (LF)
Dane De La Rosa
Erick Aybar (SS)
David Freese (3B)
Howie Kendrick (2B)
The 2014 Angels hope to return to the postseason and compete for a world title.
What place in the American League West will the Angels finish in 2014?
The Angels will, of course, need strong starting pitching to compete for a postseason spot in 2014. Ace Jered Weaver led the American League in wins (20) and WHIP (1.02) in 2012, but injuries limited him to 24 starts and 154-1/3 innings last season. He still recorded 11 wins with a 3.27 ERA and 1.14 WHIP. If he remains healthy this season, he should be one of the top starters in the AL.
C.J. Wilson has recorded 30 wins for the Halos the past two seasons and pitched over 200 innings both years. He has started at least 30 games and pitched at least 200 innings the past four seasons, two each with the Angels and Rangers. His durability will certainly help the team.
Closer Ernesto Frieri has saved 60 games out of 67 opportunities over the past two seasons, while posting a 2.76 ERA and 1.17 WHIP.
The rest of the Angels pitching staff is fairly young and in-experienced, even with veteran Joe Blanton, who struggled mightily last season, going 2-14, 6.04. Manager Mike Scioscia will need maximum output from Weaver and Wilson to remain competitive.